Compounds with anti-cancer properties and potential for use in new generation antibiotics and nutritional supplements have been found in tiny marine plants around Australia's coastline.
Microalgae - single-cell marine plants at the base of the ocean food chain - produce a range of biochemicals with exciting potential, say researchers.
Australian microalgae are genetically and biochemically different from microalgae found in oceans elsewhere, says Dr Susan Blackburn of CSIRO's Collection for Living Microalgae.
"That means that while our microalgae may look the same, it does contain unique compounds with the potential to solve future needs for drugs, including anti-cancer agents and urgently-needed antibiotics," says Dr Blackburn who has been investigating the properties of microalgae for 20 years.
Dr Blackburn said the two year project is part of a national collaborative super-project called the "Bioactive Molecule's Initiative" involving six CSIRO Divisions, encompassing the strengths of CSIRO biotechnology with a major focus being marine biotechnology.
The recent discovery of these biologically-active compounds in certain Australian microalgae highlights the potential for a new biotechnology dimension for Australia's oceans, she said.
"Australia's oceans are immense, and while we are beginning to understand more about its physical conditions and the large creatures that live in it such as whales, dolphins and fish, there is a vast array of life at the microscopic level that is not well understood at all."
"Yet from the few microalgae that have been studied, compounds with significant human health benefits as pharmaceuticals - anti-cancer, antibiotic and improved heart function drugs-have been found."
"These tiny plants are unique packages of all the components needed
to support life, and are therefore a tremendous source of untapped biochemicals
Contact: Dr Sue Blackburn